Favorite Access Control Credentials 2014

By Brian Rhodes, Published Jul 11, 2014, 12:00am EDT

When it comes to the most popular way to unlock a door, which access credential type holds the favored spot among integrators?

The 'contenders' include:

  • Barcodes
  • Biometrics
  • Contactless 125kHZ
  • Contactless 13.56MHz
  • Magstripes

With plentiful options that have different shapes, securities, and price points, credentials are the electronic access equivalent of door keys. Not only must they be inexpensive to issue and easy to manage, they also need to be secure to prevent unauthorized entry and increasingly verify identity.

In this note, we look at how integrated surveyed answered 'What is your Favorite Credential?" and share their reasons why.

The Winner

With over half the total votes, 13.56 MHz "Smartcards" took the top spot.

The chart below represents the voting breakdown:

Aside from the above types, we left things open-ended with an 'Other' option to write-in types not included. The percentage each option received follows in the list below:

  • 125 kHz Contactless (EM Prox, Prox II):36%
  • 13.56 MHz Contactless (iClass, MiFARE): 52%
  • Biometrics (Fingerprint/Fingervein/Palm/Iris): 6%
  • Barcodes/Magstripes/Cheapest: 4%
  • Other: 2%

Contactless is King

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Regardless of base frequency, one fact is clear: Contactless (or resonant energy powered) credentials pulled in 88% of the vote. The fact that users can swipe a light-weight card near a reader, without needing to punch in a code or press a finger against a sensor, speaks to the type's popularity.

Given that the plastic cards often double as picture ID badges, are inexpensive to issue, durable, and use reliable and inexpensive readers make it clear that contactless credentials will be part of access control for years to come.

13.56 MHz or 125 kHz?

Within 'contactless' types are two major classes: the older, unencrypted 125 kHz type, and the higher capacity, encrypted, and newer 13.56 MHz type.  The latter type, best known in HID 'iClass' or DESFire/MiFARE credential brands, won out the 'favored' status against it's less sophisticated predecessor, often justified by the type's 'higher security' and near-equal cost:

  • "13.56Mhz on all new jobs. However, we still sell a fair amount of 125kHZ out there based on existing cards and readers."
  • "13.56 MHz: It is newer technology with better security, and the price difference is almost nothing."
  • "We sell much more iClass. The ease of integration and broad fitment of the cards work for our projects."
  • "We used to sell more 125, but now that it can be copied, we are moving to iClass." 
  • "There seems to be a shift towards smart card technology in the past 6 months."
  • "More 13.56 MHz credentials. We really try to educate the Owner on the dated and unsecure risk of 125kHz."
  • " Our market has shifted (significantly - but not completely) from Prox to Mifare over the last five years." 

125 kHz Holdouts

However, it is still far too soon to call 125 kHz obsolete yet. Many integrators made it clear that despite the risks, they do not have enough reason to change what works, or their large base of installed systems do not need to upgrade:

  • "125 kHZ still. Haven't found the need to transfer to smart cards yet."
  • "125 kHz, because we are serving smaller customers that don't have the need for the newer technology."
  • "The majority of our projects are retrofits for customers that would like to continue to use their existing 125 kHz cards."
  • "125kHz...it's a habit! The iClass is actually more cost effective!"
  • "We sell more 125kHz, because is more compatible to do retrofits."
  • "Mostly 125 KHz. Customer do not yet seem to care about 13.56 MHz systems."
  • "125kHz. cheaper and unless mandated by customer, not really needed"

Biometrics Fringe

Despite the perpetual claims that biometrics is booming [link no longer available] for access, the category only garnered a meager 6% of votes. The only biometrics trend apparent from integrator responses is that it still is far removed from mainstream use, no matter if the discussion is fingerprints, fingerveins, palms, or even retina scans:

  • "At the present time, I am not fond of any "biometric" reader. I believe there is still work to be done."
  • "We haven't used very many over the last two years."
  • "The last retinal scanner I installed was way too big, and to get the speed you had to turn the matching down to a point where it wasn't worth doing."
  • "We do not use biometrics."
  • "None, they're all terrible."
  • "Too hard to keep in operation. Too expensive for the client."

We will release a detailed summary of integrator responses on "What is your favorite biometric, and why?" in the days ahead that takes a focused look at biometric use in access control.

Magstripes, Barcodes Are Dead?

Despite being the least expensive types available, responses made it clear the sun has set on using barcodes and magstripe for commercial access.  While those types are still widely used in the hospitality and visitor management industry and can be issued for pennies using common paper printers, they are not viable options as permanent credentials.


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